NASA Psyche capstone team builds robotic explorer

The Robotic Explorer 10B Psyche team (Psyche-Paths) is a capstone team of ten interdisciplinary students from the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, School of Earth and Space Exploration, School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy and School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering.

Four out of 10 members have electrical engineering majors with three different concentrations and three women. In total, six out of the 10 members are women with other various gender identifications and represent six different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

The team is working to design and build a robotic explorer called ADAPT (Autonomously Driven and Adaptable Psyche Tank) a.k.a. “Dappy.” Dappy is designed to manually traverse various terrains on a surface designed to represent a range of hypothesized surfaces of the Psyche asteroid along with a gravity reduction system.

While navigating the testbed, Dappy will be gathering information to identify and measure an artificial magnetic field and be completely self-sufficient through its autonomous coding. Dappy has five total cameras to navigate itself including two at the front and back, two in the “eyes” and a macro lens camera in the middle of the body pointed toward the ground to observe the surface grains at proximity.

Although the current NASA Psyche mission will not land on the Psyche asteroid, it is possible that in the future, scientists and engineers would want to propose a return mission to explore the surface. ADAPT represents such a future mission concept. Between the four schools, all deliverables and presentations are being completed and coordinated between three different professors while also completing expectations set by the Psyche mission capstone program.

Psyche is the 16th asteroid discovered and is an M-type (metallic) asteroid. As explained on the Psyche website, “Previously, the consensus of the science community was that the asteroid Psyche was almost entirely metal. New data on density, radar properties, and spectral signatures indicate that the asteroid is possibly a mixed metal and silicate world. There are still contradictions in the currently available data, but the best analysis indicates that Psyche is likely made of a mixture of rock and metal, with metal comprising between 30-60% of its volume.”

This asteroid is thought to be exposed core material of a protoplanet and is the most massive of the other M-type asteroids discovered. It orbits the Sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and takes about five Earth years to complete its orbit.

The team has imitated the hypothesized surface of Psyche using a large 8’x8’ frame with various obstacles for Dappy to maneuver including hills, inclined surfaces, and obstacles with varying materials placed on the ground to replicate the hypothesized surface and regolith of the asteroid. The reduced gravity system is attached to this and pulls on Dappy from above to reduce the contact force between the robotic explorer and the surface.

Watch Dappy live at Demo Day!

Demo Day
Friday, April 23, 2021
10 a.m.–2 p.m.
Watch on Zoom